The opponents to Utah’s medical marijuana initiative are looking a little desperate.
On Wednesday, the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah (great name by the way, but they should’ve worked “and Puppies” in there somewhere) filed a lawsuit alleging the initiative would violate the religious liberties of Mormons who don’t want to associate or have to rent apartments to people who use medical marijuana.
The lawsuit is easily one of the flimsiest, most baseless cases I’ve seen, and I’ll explain why.
First, a little disclaimer: The extent of my legal training is a correspondence course from Trump University (and all I got was this stupid hat). OK. That’s not true. I have no legal training, so you can take what follows with a grain of salt or a healthy dose of cannabis. You choose.
1. The LDS Church doesn’t prohibit medical marijuana.
We’ve written about this before, but the LDS Church doesn’t have an explicit doctrinal provision relating to medical marijuana. The policy has been that it is an issue between the patient, his or her bishop and his or her doctor.
Indeed, Mormons in states that have a medical marijuana program can and do use medical marijuana and remain in good standing.
So there is literally no merit to the argument that legalizing medical marijuana would violate any dearly held tenet of the faith, because there is nothing in the initiative that runs afoul of church doctrine.
2. Do we outlaw liquor, tea, coffee and cigarettes?
One of the arguments in the lawsuit is that the LDS Church has a strict dietary and health guideline that includes not partaking of mind-altering drugs. It doesn’t explicitly name the Word of Wisdom, but I think we all know that’s what it is talking about.
The Word of Wisdom also prohibits consumption of wine, strong drinks, tobacco and hot drinks. Sorry, Starbucks, you’re out of business because we can’t force Mormons to associate with such types of people.
The lawsuit also argues that landlords shouldn’t have to rent to someone who isn’t aligned with their moral code — which would mean now landlords could also prohibit your morning coffee or an after-work cocktail in your apartment.
They base this, in part, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, but …
3. That’s not what they said.
The Masterpiece case got a lot of attention because it was supposed to be the court’s edict on a high-profile and divisive question: Can a business be required by law to provide services to an event that goes against the owner’s religious and moral beliefs — in this case, a cake for a gay wedding?
But the court punted. They issued a very narrow ruling that Colorado’s enforcement division did not neutrally apply the law and cracked down on Masterpiece out of bad faith. It reversed the lower court’s ruling on narrow grounds, but did not rule directly on whether a law compelling the bakery to make the cake was unconstitutional.
4. Can landlords discriminate based on medicine?
A central contention in the lawsuit is that the initiative prohibits landlords from discriminating against renters who have a medical cannabis card (unless such a rental would jeopardize federal grants the landlord receives, like Section 8 housing vouchers).
A handful of others states, like Rhode Island, have similar language in their medical cannabis laws.
The notion is, essentially, that landlords can’t discriminate against someone who takes Benadryl for allergies, or insulin for diabetes, or Prozac for depression, or fentanyl for intense pain. If cannabis is a medicine, it should be treated the same.
To force an applicant to open up medical records so a landlord can screen based on what medicine he or she is taking gets into some perilous waters. And denying housing to someone who is using cannabis to treat, say, multiple sclerosis would almost certainly violate federal prohibitions on housing discrimination on the basis of disability.
5. That other part of the First Amendment.
The major thesis of the lawsuit is in the 38th paragraph, which says: “[Mormons] have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs. This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant."
That theory — that the right to free exercise includes lawful prohibitions on anything that their religion finds repugnant — weaponizes the First Amendment, essentially outlawing anything that violates any faith’s views.
Taken to an extreme, every restaurant would all have to be kosher and halal, for example.
But imposing one’s religious beliefs via the law violates the first part of the First Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Utah’s Constitution goes quite a bit further than that, explicitly because there were fears that the predominant Mormon culture would become a theocracy (which some would argue it did).
“There shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions,” the Utah Constitution reads.
The Free Exercise clause ensures just that — you can exercise your religion. It can’t be used to shelter you from having to “be around” activities you find repugnant. That, in the LDS faith, relies on your own free agency.
6. We’re not that hegemonous.
The plaintiffs contend that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, when he was deciding whether the initiative should go on the November ballot, should have weighed “its interest in promoting the availability of cannabis for medicinal use against the religious beliefs of its citizens.”
First of all, no such obligation exists anywhere in the law. They’re making that up out of thin air.
But second, if it did exist, which religious beliefs of which citizens would need to be weighed? Yes, the state is predominantly Mormon, although the majority is shrinking.
And which Mormons’ beliefs should be weighed? As mentioned above, there’s no doctrinal ban on medical marijuana. And a recent Tribune poll found that two-thirds of self-described Mormons supported the legalization of medical marijuana.
So if the beliefs of the religious majority were to be taken into account — which, again, is a concocted exercise — it would weigh in favor of putting the initiative on the ballot.
Additionally, the religious beliefs of all Utahns can’t be disregarded. The law and the First Amendment applies equally to all of them, so giving special weight to one set of beliefs because they are the religious majority once again would likely run afoul of that “union of Church and State” ban in the Constitution.
7. You can’t sue over an idea.
This is probably the most basic flaw, out of many, in the lawsuit and the main reason none of these ridiculous arguments will ever even be considered: There is no law to challenge.
The plaintiffs are claiming that Mormon landlords MAY have their constitutional rights infringed upon IF the initiative passes. But the courts don’t deal in that kind of pie-in-the-sky hypothetical.
This case isn’t even ripe to be considered by a judge until the initiative passes, the state takes steps to implement it, and then some landlord is somehow damaged by the enforcement of the law.
Filing a lawsuit now over potential harm at some future date would be akin to filing a lawsuit to block a bill a legislator introduces before it even is voted on. It’s not how the system works.
I kind of feel bad for the poor assistant attorney general who has to take an afternoon writing a motion to dismiss this nonsense. But hey, feel free to copy and paste. I don’t mind.
If the best these medical cannabis opponents can come up with is this Lionel Hutz-worthy lawsuit, then things are looking good for the ballot initiative. But I suspect there is a more legitimate and well-funded opposition movement being organized and we’ll see many more attacks between now and November.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that the Supreme Court had remanded the Masterpiece Cake Shop case to a lower court. In fact, it reversed the lower court's ruling.